Statement, 10 November 2023

War in Israel/Palestine: HEKS/EPER calls for immediate ceasefire and increases its emergency aid

One month after the start of the latest escalation of violence in Israel/Palestine, the situation for the civilian population, particularly in the Gaza Strip, is becoming increasingly alarming. The ongoing bombing, the lack of safe escape routes and the lack of humanitarian access are leading to a severe humanitarian catastrophe for the affected population. HEKS/EPER is calling for an immediate ceasefire to allow access for urgently needed humanitarian aid and increases its emergency aid to 1 million Swiss francs. At the same time, HEKS/EPER is calling on all parties to the conflict to comply with international humanitarian law.   

The humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, which is almost completely cut off from the outside world, is becoming increasingly alarming. Around 1.5 million people have had to escape their homes and seek refuge inside the Gaza Strip. The sanitary conditions in the emergency shelters are extremely precarious and access to clean water is often not guaranteed, meaning that people are increasingly suffering from respiratory infections, skin diseases and diarrhea. This situation is particularly unacceptable for vulnerable people such as the elderly and the sick. Several tens of thousands of buildings and important infrastructure facilities have already been destroyed or damaged. These include schools, bakeries and water supply. More than a third of the hospitals have had to close and access to water, food, electricity, fuel, medicine and other essential goods is becoming increasingly difficult. Internet and telephone connections are repeatedly interrupted, meaning that residents are not able to call emergency services or communicate the crisis that they are experiencing. 

Flüchtende aus Gaza

Call for ceasefire and compliance with international humanitarian law

An immediate ceasefire and secure access for humanitarian aid are necessary for the unconditional protection of the civilian population and in view of the unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. HEKS/EPER is calling on the Federal Council to advocate for this within the framework of international bodies, in particular the UN Security Council. Further civilian casualties in Israel, Gaza and the occupied territories must be prevented and access to life-saving aid must be ensured for all those in need. All civilian hostages must be released immediately and unconditionally.

HEKS/EPER calls upon all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law (IHL) - including the Geneva Conventions, its additional protocols, and all applicable rules of customary international law - and condemns the serious violations to date.  

IHL is clear that civilians must be protected. The attacks carried out by Hamas on civilians on 7 October 2023 were a clear breach of this rule, as well as the indiscriminate rocket attacks of Hamas and other armed groups on Israeli civilians. The deliberate killing of civilians, the taking of hostages and the inhumane treatment of persons are war crimes.  

Also, the Israeli military has clear IHL obligations to ensure that all military operations distinguish between fighters and civilians and between civilian objects and military objectives, and that attacks are limited to lawful military objectives and remain strictly bound by rules prohibiting indiscriminate attacks and ensuring proportionality. Constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects and all feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. Heavy explosive weapons shouldn't be used in densely populated areas, as they will almost certainly result in significant harm to civilians.  

To date, there is no safe passage available to civilians in Gaza who wish to flee the violence nor corridors to ensure that humanitarian supplies can get in. Humanitarian access is protected by IHL and both Hamas and Israel are obligated to ensure that the essential humanitarian supplies can reach civilians trapped in Gaza. Supplies essential for the survival of the civilian population are specifically protected under IHL. Starvation as a method of warfare, by way of depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, amounts to a war crime. Furthermore, collective punishment, whereby a group is punished, sanctioned, or harassed for the actions of others, is strictly prohibited under IHL.

The Gaza Strip has been under a blockade for years and its population was suffering from an extremely difficult humanitarian situation even before the recent escalation. HEKS/EPER has been present in the region for many years, advocating dialogue and understanding and supporting the civilian population in demanding their basic rights. This work for dialogue must continue. HEKS/EPER is concerned about the rise of hate speech and hate crimes on both sides of the conflict and about anti-Semitism in many countries, which also threatens Jewish lives in Europe. A clear and consistent stand against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism must be the basis of every dialogue.  

Humanitarian response

Thanks to the close cooperation with its long-standing, reliable Palestinian and Israeli partner organizations as well as with other international aid organizations working in the war zone, HEKS/EPER could launch first emergency aid measures shortly after the outbreak of hostilities.

Internally displaced people in the Gaza Strip are currently being supported by our local partner organizations and in cooperation with other international organizations within the frame of current possibilities. People who have fled to the south are receiving food parcels or cash to provide them with basic needs. Water tanks are being installed in emergency shelters and psycho-social counselling and recreational activities are being offered for children. 

Mobile Backöfen in Gaza

Partner organizations in the West Bank and Israel are also being supported in their work with communities affected by the recent escalation of violence. In Egypt, HEKS is preparing to bring relief supplies to Gaza via the Rafah border crossing as soon as possible. Further projects are being planned in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel, and we are observing the developments at the Lebanese/Israeli border with concern.

Any humanitarian response at the moment is only possible on a limited scale and under very difficult conditions. We are extremely concerned about the safety of our staff in the Gaza Strip and the staff of our partner organizations, as the south of the Gaza Strip, where the internally displaced people have found refuge and where aid is being provided, continues to be bombed. We mourn the two staff members of our partner organizations who have lost their lives in recent weeks and our thoughts are with the many partners on both sides who have lost family members and friends. We are deeply grateful for the way in which our staff and the staff of our partner organizations are doing everything they can to support the civilian population in this extremely difficult situation. 

Dieter Wüthrich
Editor and media spokesman
Dieter Wüthrich

Mobile: +41 76 461 88 70

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